Retired Israeli generals share opposing views on how war in Gaza should end


There's a debate on whether Israel should stop the war, trade the Palestinian prisoners it holds for the hostages Hamas has and begin negotiations for a two-state solution. Nick Schifrin discussed both sides of the argument with retired Israeli Major General Gershon Hacohen and retired Israeli Brigadier General Jonathan Shimshoni.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    To discuss the next steps in the war and the debates over the best way to release the hostages and over the two-state solution, we get two views.

    Retired Brigadier General Jonathan Shimshoni had a 25-year career in the Israel Defense Force. He's now one of the leaders of the group Commanders for Israeli Security. And retired Major Gershon Hacohen had a 42-year career in the Israel Defense Force. He's now at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

    Thanks very much to you both of you. Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Yoni Shimshoni, let me start with you.

    What is the best way, in your opinion, to get the release of the hostages currently in Gaza?

  • Brig. Gen. Jonathan Shimshoni, Commanders For Israeli Security:

    OK, well, the best way is clearly not the way that we're trying to do it now, which is guided by some theory of total force, force only, no diplomacy, no political direction.

    And the more we apply force at the moment, not that we shouldn't have during the first four to six weeks, it's causing the hostages to wilt and to be in greater jeopardy. So we need to somehow create some kind of deal that will include stepping down, stepping back, or doing whatever it takes to create a deal that will have a political dimension to it to release the hostages.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Gershon Hacohen, do you agree? Do you think the Israel should do "whatever it takes" — quote, unquote — "to make a deal"?

    Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen (RET.), Bar-Ilan University: We must fight in order to defeat Hamas, because they are actually bringing an existential threat to Israel. It is really an existential warfare. And we cannot focus ourselves only on the other mission to release the hostages. Actually, we are working in both sides with these two efforts simultaneously, not just either/or.

    And yet the offer that was just put on the table is, in my eyes, a kind of unconditional surrender of Israel. It means a demand of Hamas to stop the war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yoni Shimshoni, what about that, the idea that the Israeli government is both pursuing a military option to pressure Hamas, but also being willing to actually pursue this diplomatic path? We know from reports that it is willing or considering a longer pause for the release of hostages.

  • Brig. Gen. Jonathan Shimshoni:

    The more we apply force, they will be in a last stand type of mind-set. And if they get into a last stand kind of mind-set, they will probably kill all the hostages in the last stand.

    The other option is that they would be willing to seek a secure exit, and — of some kind. And in that case, they would use the hostages. And the logic of that situation suggests that we should go for a deal as quickly as we can. And if it requires a diplomatic cease-fire, whatever it is, do it now, because the logic of this situation says, either there's a deal or we lose all the hostages.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Gershon Hacohen, is that right? Could more military pressure in fact lead to the death of the hostages?

  • Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen:

    That is really a danger. Everyone aware about that. We cannot ignore it.

    But on the other side is the real existence of Israel. We cannot permit ourselves not to defeat Hamas in that occasion. We are not just making pressure upon Hamas in order to release the hostages. We are struggling to defend the Israel existence. This is the main goal of the war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yoni Shimshoni, let's look beyond today. Who do you believe should run Gaza after the war ends?

  • Brig. Gen. Jonathan Shimshoni:

    Ultimately, it's a Palestinian environment. It's a Palestinian population. And if anybody's going to lead it, it is going to be a Palestinian polity of one kind or another.

    And what the world is telling Israel in no uncertain terms, the world being the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and more, are telling us, yes, it needs to be a Palestinian entity and it needs to be rolled up in with the Palestinians in the West Bank, i.e., the Palestinian Authority.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Gershon Hacohen, who do you think should run Gaza after the war ends?

  • Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen:

    Israel could really support Gaza to be a kind of state.

    And we are expecting and we have the right to expect that this state will be in alliances with Israel and not an enemy. Right now, the Palestinian Authority is not in alliances with Israel, far away from that. They are supporting terrorists.

    We can live with the idea that the United States really insisted that Gaza will stay completely under Palestinian hands. OK, but not with Palestinian Authority. I don't believe in the promise of President Biden that he can change the entity and the character of Palestinian Authority.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yoni Shimshoni, what about those criticisms, specifically that the Palestinian Authority has incited Palestinians toward violence and is corrupt and is, frankly, unpopular among Palestinians in the West Bank already?

  • Brig. Gen. Jonathan Shimshoni:

    I agree with the description, but I don't accept a static theory of history.

    The Germans and Japanese were the devil, were demons, and Egypt was out to destroy Israel for so many years. I think things can be moved if you inject hope and some kind of future and maintain tremendous power and security control for a long time and require demilitarization for a long time and international oversight. I think things can be moved.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are some who criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making decisions based on personal decisions, trying to extend his prime ministership, as opposed to national security.

    What do you think?

  • Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen:

    We are in a time of war. He is leading our nation in a very complicated war.

    I don't believe that our soldier will sacrifice their life for that personal interest of Netanyahu. They are struggling for something much more sublime than a political interest of somehow. So, I don't believe in it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Gershon Hacohen, Yoni Shimshoni, thank you very much to you both.

  • Brig. Gen. Jonathan Shimshoni:

    Thank you.

  • Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen:

    Thank you very much.

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Retired Israeli generals share opposing views on how war in Gaza should end first appeared on the PBS NewsHour website.

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